Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ programme last week heard two reports on consecutive days relating to the Palestinian rioting ostensibly in reaction to security measures installed at Temple Mount after two Israeli policemen were murdered in a terror attack on July 14th. Both of those items were notable for their promotion of moral equivalence between the murders of victims of terrorism and the deaths of rioters killed while engaged in violence.
Robinson: “Will the decision by the Israeli security cabinet to remove metal detectors at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites lessen the tension which has led to the deaths of three Israelis and four Palestinians in recent days, as well as an attack on Israel’s embassy in Jordan?”
The three Israelis mentioned by Robinson are the members of the Salomon family murdered by a terrorist who infiltrated their family home on July 21st as they finished dinner. The four Palestinians were all engaged in violent rioting (that was praised by the Palestinian president’s party Fatah) at the time of their deaths. Radio 4’s presenter however made no effort to inform listeners of the vastly different circumstances behind those deaths or to clarify that the Israelis were victims of terrorism.
Robinson likewise failed to clarify that the two Israeli policemen he went on to mention were also victims of terror, or who carried out that attack.
Robinson: “The detectors were installed at entry points to the al Asqa [sic] mosque – the third holiest site in Islam – after two Israeli policemen were shot dead in the area of the Temple Mount.”
Listeners were not informed of the all-important fact that the terrorists used weapons smuggled into the al Aqsa mosque.
Robinson: “The UN’s Middle East envoy has been warning of catastrophic costs well beyond the walls of the Old City. This is the reaction of Manuel Hassassassian [sic], the head of the Palestinian mission to the UK.”
Listeners then heard completely unchallenged statements from Manuel Hassassian.
Hassassian: “I think for the moment, removing the metal detectors is a stepping stone in the right direction of calming down the situation. But Israel is insisting on putting cameras and smart technology to control and to supervise the area of the Haram Sharif that alone heavily guarded by manpower and that in itself is also instigative to the Palestinian faithful worshippers who will go and pray in the Haram Sharif. But I must say that, you know, the removal, in general, of the metal detectors will pacify the situation and we hope – we hope – that Israel won’t resort to such measures in the future because the question of religion is something very, very, very sensitive that could create tension and escalation as we have seen the last week.”
Although he opted out of asking the PA’s representative any questions at all (for example, regarding incitement to violence by the PA and its dominant party Fatah), Robinson did find it appropriate to ask the item’s second interviewee – Efraim Halevy, who is not a representative of the Israeli government – questions relating to Israeli policy.
Robinson: “…is it time that your prime minister, your government, changed its approach?”
The next day – July 26th – ‘Today’ listeners heard another item on the same topic which was introduced (from 02:49:29 here) by Nick Robinson thus:
Robinson: “The area of East Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Haram al Sharif remains very tense after days of protests by Palestinians over new security measures. Israel has now removed controversial metal detectors, saying they’ll be replaced with alternatives. But the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas says he’ll maintain a freeze on security cooperation with Israel. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman now reports from Jerusalem.”
Failing to clarify that the July 14th attack at Lions Gate was an act of terror, Bateman began:
Bateman: “Gunshots rang out from one of the most revered sites on earth nearly a fortnight ago. Two Israeli policemen were shot dead by three Israeli Arabs who were killed by security forces. In the volatile moments that followed police closed the compound and two messages competed for public attention.”
Erdan: “The terrorists they used firearms inside the Temple Mount violating, violating the holiness of this important place.”
Bateman: “Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan spoke out, as did the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem Adnan Husseini.”
Husseini: “We are living under occupation. Now the mosque should be open. If the mosque will not be open, it means that we are going to have more problems. This moment is very dangerous moment, very sensitive moment. We have to go to pray.”
Bateman: “They did pray – but on the streets outside the al Aqsa mosque; the holy Islamic shrine and also a powerful symbol of Palestinian hopes for statehood. To Jews the site is the abode of God’s presence where the biblical temples once stood.”
Bateman then gave a brief qualified explanation of the reason for the installation of the metal detectors which it is hard to believe would have been fully understood by listeners. He failed to adequately clarify which “guns had been smuggled in” to where or by whom.
Bateman: “Israel said it was installing the metal detectors because the guns had been smuggled in. Tensions grew and on Friday became a day of Palestinian protest. Fearing unrest, Israel barred entry to the site to all men aged under 50.”
After listeners heard a brief recording of Bateman in Jerusalem on July 21st, he continued:
Bateman: “Israeli police fired stun grenades. The protests spread. This was now about more than metal detectors. For Palestinians it evoked fears Israel wanted to change the long-standing access agreement over al Aqsa. Israel repeatedly said this was not the case. The site is in East Jerusalem which was annexed by Israel half a century ago. In the clashes over the weekend, five Palestinians were killed.”
Bateman then went to visit the family of a person killed while participating in violent rioting in a district of Jerusalem.
Bateman: “Children played outside as I visited the home of Susanne Abu Ghannam. Her son Mohammed was among those who died on Friday, shot – she said – by Israeli forces.”
Although listeners heard the mother claim that “the occupation forces were surrounding the hospital in order to take his body”, Bateman did not inform them that there is no indication that was the case.
Bateman then moved swiftly on, promoting equivalence between that death and the murders of three Israelis in the July 21st terror attack in Halamish.
Bateman: “Another woman was left grieving on Friday. An hour’s drive from Jerusalem, in the Jewish settlement of Halamish in the West Bank, a Palestinian man – claiming his actions were for al Aqsa – entered the home of an Israeli family celebrating a birth. He stabbed to death Michal Salomon’s husband, sister-in-law and father-in-law.”
After listeners had heard from Michal Salomon, Bateman closed his report.
Bateman: “For Israel the crisis was about a profound need to maintain security at what one minister called the most sensitive location on earth. It has drawn in Israel’s neighbour Jordan; the custodian of al Aqsa as part of the two countries’ peace deal. Amid international calls for calm, Palestinian leaders said last night their boycott on entering the mosque would continue. It seems Israel’s decision to remove the metal detectors has yet to see this crisis resolved.”
Although this is far from the first time that we have seen the BBC equating the deaths of Palestinians participating in violent acts with those of Israelis deliberately murdered by terrorists, the fact that the BBC refuses to use the word terror to describe attacks against Israelis makes that politicised editorial policy of moral equivalence all the more misleading to audiences – and all the more offensive.